Sunday 20 April 2014

Still on Sunday 20 April: a big day: Troy

After our busy morning, we took the ferry across to Canakkale for lunch and then to visit Troy. We don't get much down-time - 10 mins to wander round after lunch was our only free time today!

Leaving Eceabat on the ferry; our hotel in the the background, 

Turkish flag seller making a sale to the Red Coats

Some tourist guides dismiss Troy as just stones and ruins, and its true that there are no grand buildings such as can be found in other Turkish sites such as Ephesus, but Baris proved once again a knowledgeable guide. Even though we were flagging by now after a long morning and another delicious lunch, followed by a bus ride in the warm sun which nearly sent us all to sleep (Baris is trying to teach us some Turkish phrases, and he couldn't get anyone to reply), he managed to infect us with his enthusiasm, so much so that by the end we were singing both national anthems in the small Roman amphitheatre.

NOT the original Wooden Horse. But good for photo opportunities - just watch out for no health and safety regulations in place on the stairwells inside

We saw stone walls and gates from the different periods of Troy and looked out over the plains where the Greek armies might have camped towards the Dardanelles, where ships passed between us and the Cape Helles memorial (that's tomorrow's expedition.) Poppies grew amongst the weeds and we even spotted three small squirrels, curled up in the sun, and a family of mother dog and puppies.

It was a good day, capped by returning on the ferry to Eceabat (it still seems amazing to be sailing across the Dardanelles) and then standing out on the hotel rooftop verandah before dinner and spotting dolphins just out in front. Graeme said he had placed  a special order for them to be on display at 7.15pm. It's good to know that the team leaders have everything so much under control.

It seems a strange, ironic coincidence that the site of ancient Troy - where the events of Homer's Iliad took place - should be just across the Dardanelles from the Gallipoli peninsula. Many of the young British soldiers, especially the officers, had been brought up on the Iliad, and headed off to war feeling that they were going to re-create the exploits of those Greek and Trojan heroes: Achilles, Hector, Ajax and the rest. Some were also poets and writers. 

The most famous was probably Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), once called "the handsomest young man in England" (who actually came to New Zealand before the war, on a round the world trip in 1913). He wrote a series of war sonnets, but never made it to war; he died on a hospital ship on 23 April 1915 of blood poisoning and is buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros.
Photo of Rupert Brooke’s grave in the Olive Grove in southern Skyros
Rupert Brooke's grave on Skyros

This lends extra poignancy to his war sonnet The soldier:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Perhaps because of his early death, Rupert Brooke's work remained optimistic and idealistic, and never reflected the disillusion with war that later poets felt. These lines of his (from The dead) are often found inscribed on war memorials:

These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene, 
That man call age; and those who would have been, 
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.  

Patrick Shaw-Stewart,  another young man of that generation (he helped to bury Brooke on Skyros), also thought the idea of going to Gallipoli was "the luckiest thing" and highly romantic, and re-read the Iliad on the way there; having survived those battles, he was killed in France in December 1917. His poem "I saw a man this morning" was possibly written in July 1915, when he had been on leave for three days on the island of Imbros and was then recalled to the fighting. 

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;
I ask, and cannot answer,
if otherwise wish I.
Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.
But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean Sea;
Shrapnel and high explosives,
Shells and hells for me.
Oh Hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?
Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese;
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.
Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest, and I know not;
So much the happier am I.
I will go back this morning
From Imbros o'er the sea.
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me


  1. I too loved Troy, despite the lack of any buildings or structures. The poems are very moving.

  2. You are lucky to have such a good guide.When we went a lot of the focus was on the poor original excavations by the archaeologists rather then the history. I really enjoyed this post.